If you were a brave explorer 100 years ago, curious to find the ends of the Earth, there’s a chance you would find yourself in a cold, icy land called the Arctic Circle. You would see vast stretches of land and mountains covered in ice and snow, dotted with polar bears, snow foxes and seals. But if you were to visit the Arctic Circle now, you would see a very different picture. Barren land peeking out from under the melting snow, barely any glaciers and animals struggling to survive.
That’s what happened to photographer Christian Åslund when he undertook a project to compare glaciers in the Arctic Circle. He captured the exact spot that was photographed 100 years ago, to show the stark difference in the landscape. And boy, were they stark! The current images compared to those belonging to the archives of the Norwegian Polar Institute, from the early 1900s, show that most of the ice and snow glaciers have completely disappeared.
— Archaeo – Histories (@archeohistories) July 15, 2021
So, what happened in the last 100 years that changed so drastically?
The short answer: Climate change.
A long-term shift in weather patterns and temperatures is called climate change. It has some natural causes, such as a difference in solar cycles, but it is mostly caused by human activities, such as extensive use of fossil fuels like coal, oil, and natural gas.
Since the industrial revolution in the 1800s, the constant use of fossil fuels and non-renewable energy has led to an increase in greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane. These gases go into the atmosphere and form a cover around the Earth, like a thick blanket, causing our planet’s temperature to shoot up. This is called the greenhouse effect and is the main reason behind the melting of the Arctic Circle.
It also has other damaging effects like forest fires, extinction of animals, diseases, shortage of water and an increase in natural disasters. But one of its most immediate and global effects has been on the weather — seasons changing suddenly, warmer summers and colder winters, an increase in rains during the summer and sudden flash floods.
You may have heard people blame climate change whenever there are unseasonal rains or if the winters aren’t cold enough or when the summers are very harsh. Does this mean that there’s a difference between the weather and climate?
Think of it this way: weather is one part of the picture, while climate is the whole picture. The weather is what you experience on any given day — sometimes it’s hot and sunny, sometimes it’s cold and cloudy. The climate is like measuring the average of this weather. The seasons, the high points and low points in temperatures and rainfall, all fall under the category of climate. So, when you hear that a particular day recorded the highest amount of rainfall, that’s the climate.
Climate change thus concerns the long-term effects on the climate causing seasons to change, which in turn causes the weather to vary.
Human-caused climate change has been warming up the Earth for decades, and the Arctic Circle has seen some of the biggest consequences of it. Over the past 30 years, the Arctic has warmed twice as fast as the rest of the world due to a phenomenon called the Arctic Amplification.
Glaciers in Canada, Alaska, and Greenland are melting and disappearing rapidly, changing the landscape of the Arctic. The thick sheets of ice that covered the Arctic Sea are also breaking apart and melting, changing the ecosystem within the sea and adversely affecting marine life. As the region warms up, animals like polar bears and seals struggle to find food and stay cool in constantly shifting weather.
Climate change has also started thawing the permafrost in the area. Permafrost is the layer of soil underneath the top layer that remains below the freezing point at all times. Within it are flora and fauna that have been frozen for millions of years, which have now begun to decay as the permafrost thaws, releasing more carbon dioxide and methane into the air.
The Arctic Circle plays an important role in our planet’s ecosystem. It acts as a natural air conditioner for the world, cooling it down when things get hot and maintaining a balance in temperature. Climate change is robbing the Arctic Circle of its ability to stay cool, and with it, ours as well!
Here are some interesting facts about polar bears and why the climate in the Artic Circle is so important to them. Is there a way to reverse what’s happened to the Arctic Circle and make it the world’s air conditioner again? How would that be possible? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below.
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